Locked-in or ready for climate change mitigation? Agri-food networks as structures for dairy-beef farming


Many countries have included agriculture as one of the sectors where they intend to obtain significant greenhouse gas emission reductions. In Norway, the dairy-beef sector, in particular, has been targeted for considerable emission cuts. Despite publicly expressed interest within the agricultural sector for reducing emissions, significant measures have yet to be implemented. In this paper, we draw on qualitative data from Norway when examining the extent the wider agri-food network around farmers promotes or restrains the transition toward low-emission agricultural production. A qualitative analysis based on interviews with key stakeholders from various parts of the agri-food network of dairy-beef indicates that, if it is up to the dairy-beef system itself, it will develop in the direction of continued increased production volumes and increased efficiency in production, combined with moderate measures to reduce emissions. There is an obvious reluctance to stimulate the consumer demand toward other products or meat products with reduced emissions because such a solution would complicate full exploitation of existing agricultural resources and hence could bring considerable negative economic consequences. Another factor limiting the scope and drive towards a low-carbon production is that the effects of various potential climate measures do not appear as unambiguous. Our study indicates that the dairy-beef sector will likely not reach the goal of reduced emissions from its own initiatives. Rather, significant changes would probably require both push and pull support from forces outside the agricultural system.

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  1. 1.

    At the beginning of 2017, the average dairy farm had 26.3 cows (Norsk Landbruk 2017a, b).

  2. 2.

    The Norwegian Climate and Pollution Agency, which was merged into the Norwegian Environment agency in 2013.

  3. 3.

    The multi-level perspective (MLP) on transitions highlights three conceptual levels, where the interplay between developments on each of them are of importance: Socio-technical regimes are established systems of practices and rules, niches are radical innovations that enable regime change, and an exogenous socio-technical landscape constitutes the third level (Geels, 2002, 2005, 2011).

  4. 4.

    In Norway, related to the climate challenges, a quite heavy and critical debate on cattle and methane emissions has developed in the media over the last four years.

  5. 5.

    As there currently is competition to rent land for farmers to expand production, many farmers must rent land at a distance from their own farms.



Greenhouse gas


Norwegian Red Cattle


EU emissions trading system


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This study was financed by The Research Council of Norway, through their programme on climate research (KLIMAFORSK, project number 235670). Many thanks to two anonymous reviewers for useful inputs.

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Correspondence to Maja Farstad.

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Farstad, M., Vinge, H. & Stræte, E.P. Locked-in or ready for climate change mitigation? Agri-food networks as structures for dairy-beef farming. Agric Hum Values 38, 29–41 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-020-10134-5

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  • Climate mitigation
  • Agriculture
  • Agri-food networks
  • Lock-in
  • Dairy-beef